On my way to Glacier National Park, I became accustomed cows popping their heads up from the tall grass, their eyes nonchalantly following me as I pass. So I was surprised to find the iconic white mountain goats of Glacier National Park to be much the same.
This painting was made right on the trail. Originally there were 3 goats, I even had drawn one pissing in the grass and later edited it out. But much like roadside cattle, these mountain goats pay about as much attention to visitors gaulking and googling with their cameras. At the end of the trail on the Hidden Lake overlook I find a wall of tourists leaning over the railing, fingers and binoculars pointed to the distance. A spotted a grizzly 10 miles away. From this viewpoint, visibly a speck. Behind the wall of tourists, a white mountain goat approaches unnoticed. When the first person jumps as he discovers the stirring noise from behind, all others follow turning their attention. The goat also jumps back trying to get away as everyone desperately fumbles for their camera for this close encounter.
Then I capture this next shocking scene.
This man trying to feed a goat a waffle!
Is this a zoo? Are these wild animals pets? Is a park entrance fee a permit to feed wildlife? Has Yogi Bear taught us nothing?
For the remainder of my time in the park, I see this conduct again and again, but it becomes so frequent that I am no longer shocked.
Weeks later I ride to Yellowstone, the famous premier National Park of our nation. And as soon as I enter the gates, I’m ready to leave. A mile of cars are stopped for a handful of park tourists with digital cameras taking pictures of elk. Here we go again.
One painting was made of Yellowstone and none others. The heard of cars rushing by, traffic jams, and road raged tourists and massive RVs is enough to alienate me from wildlife that Yellowstone is suppose to stand for.
But on my way out of the park, I stop by the mud volcano where boiling silted water bubbles and steam billows from the mouth of the cavern. Families run out from the parking lot, cameras ready when right next to the cave, a massive buffalo lounges. Just as he is ignorant to the fact that he has become the lead attraction, the zoo of people are ignorant that I am drawing them.
When people ask me about my visit to the national parks so far, I politely agree that they are stunning. But in reality, if found my greatest moments were when I returned to the empty roads outside of the park. East of Yellowstone is the Shoshone National Wilderness and one of the best rides. There, an orange canyon and crumbling rock pinnacles—a garden of giant carons against the sky. I drop my bike by the side of the road to scramble up to the base of one of these pinnacles, not by trail, but by goat tracks. And in this view, even in a smoke filled sky, I find my serenity in the presence of nature.
I’ve been scolded for bypassing the infamous Old Faithful of Yellowstone and rushing out of the park. But for me, some of the most astounding moments of this trip are the ones not highlighted on the map, but the ones I discover for myself.